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Western medicine

Diet and Supplements

Lyme makes excellent troubleshooters of us. People with Lyme disease are an innovative species. We tend to reach out and try new things. We've got to, because sometimes that's the only way to find the best remedies and treatments for our particular situation.

Every winter, I get eczema on my legs and hands, no matter what I do or how I eat. It’s frustrating. Yet each spring, it goes away as the weather warms up. Along with record-breaking temps and bitter winter cold comes an added challenge: Dry air inside. If you suffer from eczema, these cold, dry conditions can make a breakout unbearable. Your doctor can prescribe steroidal creme. Mine did, but after my horrid experiences with Prednisone, I couldn’t even bring myself to open the tube. I am mega-cautious when it comes to any medicine with steroids in it.

Manuka honey and Shea butter
By chance, I learned about Manuka honey from a friend who works at the local hospital. It comes from New Zealand, and the bees cultivate the nectar from tea tree bushes, with its famously potent antibacterial agents.

Turns out this hospital—a Western-medicine-centric place—like every other hospital in the US, orders Manuka honey by the boatload. Doctors in the ER use it on bad burns, deep gunshot wounds, and eczema.

It’s a good sign when your average hospital in the US starts using healthy “alternatives.” The type they use is trademarked Medihoney. I bought The Wild Bee brand at the local healthy foods store and started applying it directly on my skin. Mixed with a bit of Shea butter, that is.

Of course, nothing beats butter to seal in the moistness. Once in the morning and again before bedtime, I dab honey on the patches of dry skin, then slather it with a layer of Shea butter. Especially in the winter, I’ve found this combo to work like nothing else to soothe my dry skin and keep the eczema from getting worse.

I’ve long avoided eating any honey because our bodies react to it the same as sugar. Excessive amounts of sugar are to be avoided when the body is fighting any infection, but especially when it’s battling a fierce opponent such as Lyme. Manuka tastes lovely, but be cautious adding it to your diet. I do not recommend eating any sort of honey if you’re harboring a load of Lyme bacteria.

At the same time as I started using the Manuka on my skin, I also changed my diet. My doctor recommended that I limit my diet to find out if it could be a food allergy triggering the eczema. It may not be solely due to the cold dry winter weather.

Give GF a try
So I quit eating most of the common allergens. My diet is now 100% gluten-free and dairy-free. Wheat has never bothered me in the past, but by eliminating it completely and then experimenting with adding it back in, I’ve discovered that it actually does make my eczema worse. So, no more wheat for me.

Soy, although another potential allergen, isn’t problematic for me. I drink soy milk and eat tofu and edamame. Soy provides a good nonfat source of protein.

Bamboo leaf tea for silica?
In addition, I’ve added in a daily dose of bamboo-leaf tea. Over the past few years, I have experimented with preparing this tea, mainly because it’s very convenient. We happen to live inside a bamboo grove. I enjoy the process of picking and cleaning the leaves, then roasting them and grinding them up for a pot of tea.

Bamboo leaf tea has a pleasant grassy fragrance. It’s a light green tea which combines well with other teas (I especially like it blended with Jasmine green). It’s also very nice just brewed all by itself. Bamboo leaves are a high source of silica. The second-most common element on earth, silica is necessary to restore and regulate the amount of collagen in our bodies. Lyme bacteria eats away the collagen in our joints and skin. Bamboo leaf tea may help replace it.

What I don’t know yet is how much of the silica actually gets absorbed into our bodies from drinking bamboo leaf tea. How much is bioavailable? I’ll let you know as soon as I find out.

Turmeric with black pepper to reduce inflammation
Now let’s consider a very important spice—one that’s probably in your kitchen. Turmeric is highly recommended for reducing silent inflammation associated with arthritis, gout, heart disease, a whole host of other ailments, and of course, Lyme disease. Research into the cause and effect of Alzheimer’s disease on the brain has pointed to some very convincing scientific evidence that turmeric helps heal the brain, thus slow the aging process itself. But turmeric taken alone is evidently not as effective as turmeric that includes pepper. The addition of black pepper renders it many times more effective.

These are just a few of the supplements, therapies, and lifestyle changes that I’ve personally experimented with over the years. If something isn’t working for you, you might want to try a different remedy. Listen to your own body, be patient, and you’ll find what’s best for you. Different things work differently on different people, but these are some that I’ve come to depend on, to help me maintain the quality of life I’ve gotten used to since healing from Lyme.

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What's wrong with conventional medicine (and what to do about it)

An insightful article on the Doctor-Patient Relationship written by Dr Lissa Rankin points out some of the specific problems created and intensified by our orthodox medical system. Rankin is searching for a more vital and meaningful way to relate to her profession, her patients and her role. In her post, she perceptively describes an enormous & paradoxical problem with what she calls Old Medicine. Lyme disease patients get to be unwilling experts in Old Medicine. Picture the doctor with his/her hand on the doorknob, nodding in your direction as you wait in your underwear on a cold table under florescent lights that are driving you mad.

From the patients’ perspective, you can boil it down to this: You want to be treated like a whole person, not a slab of meat.

From the doctors’ perspective, you want to practice medicine without losing your own health and/or being forced to put your soul on hold.

Dr Rankin shows how the rules of Old Medicine are intolerable, imposing unsustainable stresses on doctors and patients alike.  She accurately describes the ways in which ways doctors get shafted in this system. Then she turns the tables, articulating how our current cold-as-a-spectrum ‘managed care’ feels from the patients’ perspective.

What’s wrong with conventional medicine and what can be done about it

Our medical system is flawed. The question is not how bad is it, or how thoroughly can we condemn it. The question is, can it be fixed, and if so, how?

Most people are aware that there are 2 types of medicine:
1. Conventional, which treats the illness.
2. Alternative, complementary, holistic, or integrative, which treats the whole patient.

However, there is also an emerging 3rd category: Integral, which includes the first two types and treats the physician as well. I’m old enough to remember when ‘health food’ stores were totally square. Now, Whole Foods, just one example, is a billion dollar business. Our collective consciousness around health issues is constantly expanding, although not as quickly as some of us would like. There is evidence that Integral medicine is being quickly adopted by health-care practitioners around the world.

Here’s why:

Using an
Integral framework is like putting on a new pair of specs. It gives us a good look at the big picture without excluding the details. The Integral model recognizes that every event has at least four dimensions. They represent the perspectives: I, we, it and its. How does this apply in analyzing our medical system? Here’s how: Factors in all four dimensions affect both the cause and the cure of an illness. The all-too-often murky process of diagnosing and treating Lyme disease provides a classic example of why an integral medicine is necessary.

Four dimensions of medicine and why all four are important

1. Conventional medicine tends to strictly abide in only one of those four dimensions. It deals almost entirely with the physical organism using physical interventions: surgery, drugs, medication, and behavioral modification. Orthodox medicine believes essentially in the physical causes of physical illness, and therefore prescribes mostly physical interventions. Lyme disease, if caught early enough, can be greatly cured and controlled with antibiotics. The integral model doesn’t claim that this objective dimension is unimportant, only that it is just telling one-fourth of the story. (The Integral Vision, by Ken Wilber. p 92) Which leads us to the next quadrant:

2. Unprecedented interest in Alternative care makes it clear that many people (doctors included) recognize that our interior states, i.e. our emotions, psychological attitudes, imagery, and intentions, play a crucial role in both the cause and the cure of even physical illness. Conscious use of imagery, visualization, and affirmation have been scientifically proven to affect the management of most illnesses, and including these practices is increasingly more accepted in comprehensive medical care. (p. 92) Affirmations were extremely important to me while Lyme was in an acute stage. Repeating bits of positive phrases helped me focus my Lyme-addled brain and gave me a reason to believe I was eventually going to be alright, even though more than one doctor had advised me to go on disability, climb into a wheelchair and settle in for life. For me that wouldn’t have been life, but death.

3. However, this subjective dimension is still only one-fourth of the whole picture. Nothing exists in a vacuum, least of all human consciousness. We are embedded in shared cultural values and intersubjective factors that affect our state of health and our journey through illness. Cultural views and judgements affect us. In my interviews with Lyme patients over the years, I’ve noticed a significantly common thread, which is that we’ve all been told, at one time or another, that “it’s all in your head.” We may not give much credence to the dimension of cultural views, and yet our spouses’, friends’ and doctors’ subjective opinions about our health affects us (sometimes dramatically) whether we like it or not.

4. The material and economic dimension, causative factors in both disease and cure are rarely acknowledged. Yet, these factors are central to the issue, not besides-the-point. This is the Social system that delivers your medicine, sets the limits on your managed care, and accepts or declines your access to insurance. Are you wealthy? You may be fortunate enough to afford concierge medical care. Or are you in the economic class that is relegated to using the ER when things get bad enough? The Social system dimension or quadrant also includes your access to clinics and nurses and their availability in your region. In other words, if you can’t reach the clinic you need because you are too sick to drive or it is too far away, it cannot help you.

Integral medicine includes all four of the above dimensions. I’m inspired by doctors like Lissa Rankin, who intuit that Old Medicine only tells one-quarter of the story, and that in order to improve we must acknowledge the other 3 quadrants or dimensions. In the
100 perspectives we categorize our interviews, articles, and other info into all four quadrants. Integral medicine is gaining popularity around the globe, and Lyme literate doctors, because they have to deal with us Lymies on so many different dimensions of health, may be on the leading edge.
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MDs aren't educated in nutrition - Drink water and drop sugar

She is a large, tall woman, obese, yet she's always there, running on the treadmill, stretching and sweating with the rest of us. Over the past year I'd noticed her, because our gym routines seemed to coincide. But she seemed shy and kept to herself, so I had never talked with her until one day last week. We made eye contact, smiled and said hello. I wanted to tell her that I'd noticed she was dropping the pounds. I realized that she was a lot younger than I had assumed. Probably still in her early 20s.

I told her that she was looking great, and she stopped pumping iron and grinned, blue eyes clear and sparkling. She thanked me for the encouragement, and I learned her name, Amy. As we talked, she told me that not too long ago, she'd been just about ready to quit the gym. Then a woman where she works (at the local hospital) started mentoring her about nutrition.

She laughed and told me that until recently, "I didn't know anything about food. I just ate what I ate."

I asked if she felt better. She praised her current state of health, saying that when she dropped the junk food and soda habit, and kept on working out, her energy increased and her moods improved, almost overnight. "I couldn't believe that what I was eating had so much to do with how I was feeling," she said. "Now I know," she said, flashing her beautiful smile.

I know that Amy's story isn't directly relevant to us Lymies. But her story is important because a lot of us simply "eat what we eat," without thinking about it, and don't even notice that nutrition has any bearing on our health, or on Lyme disease. We just don't know, until we know. Bad eating habits can depress our immune systems, damage our kidneys, clog our arteries and make us feel generally awful.

One thing that I learned from having been so ill, was that my body is a precious thing. I remember vowing to myself as I lay in bed for all those terrible months of acute Lyme pain, that if I ever got well again I would do everything in my power to stay healthy. In my mind, that meant vibrant, organically grown foods, exercise, laughter, continuing to develop my knowledge of nutrition and health, and loving myself as much as I care for my family and friends.

Doctors (MDs) do not get any training or education in nutrition. They do not get any training in preventative approaches. Their training is in treating us after they have diagnosed us as sick. We need to keep this in mind, and seek researched information on foods and drink that may harm us, or help us.

Junk food is a crime. We have a nation of obese, sick adults and children, and junk food is still legal. Please take a cue from Amy, friend and hospital worker, and "push the water," as she says. I had asked her what one thing she thought was making the biggest difference in her overall health improvement, and she had said "water." She drank sodas all day long before. Now she pushes the water, and it's making a big difference.

Are you drinking enough water? Have you dropped that addiction to sweets and junk? I wish it were different, but I believe that unless we take more control of our own diets and get smarter about our habits, we won't be getting better anytime soon.

On my reading list for the month: The Sugar Fix: High-Fructose Fallout That is Making You Fat & Sick


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Take An Interest In your Health

Headlines. Sometimes I don't know whether to laugh at them or cry. Yesterday's stuck with me. It was like medical news version of the common one we see in every woman's consumer magazine: Doctors Say Exercise and Eating Less leads to Weight Loss. Yesterday's headline was something like: Study Finds that People Who Take an Interest in their Own Health Likely to Heal Faster. Well, duh!

When I brought this up at the dinner table (yes, we ignore the rules about what can and cannot be talked about at dinner around here, and come to think of it, we don't even eat at a table, but never mind), I was reminded that in fact, many people don't take charge of their own healing. Not only that, but in our culture taking on responsibility for your own healing is a revolutionary act, a heroic act. A lot of people expect the doctor to make them better, presto change-o. Take this magic pill. Don't worry that the doctor doesn't even bother, to tell you what it is or what the generic name of it is, what the adverse side effects might be or even how long to continue taking it.

We live in a culture where we're unaccustomed to taking responsibility for our health. But healing, just as all art and acts of creativity, is way too important to be left solely up to the professionals. I love the advice I got from my Naturopath for healing Lyme disease. He recommended gathering a small group of medical advisors and consulting with them for the maximum of quality information. Imagine your healing journey as a road trip, he told me, and these advisors are in the car with you. Who do you choose to have along for the ride?
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Expiration dates count.

Expiration dates count. Be aware of outdated information on Lyme disease research websites. It's astonishing to me how many doctors' and medical authorities' websites are still confidently proclaiming that Lyme disease can only be spread by ticks. I've only been researching this disease for a little over a year but it appears clear that ticks alone are not responsible for the epidemic of Lyme disease. The Lyme-literate doctors I've spoken with are convinced that only a small percentage of cases of Lyme are spread by ticks. There seems to be a lot of evidence to suggest that all blood-sucking insects are capable of carrying the bacteria that causes Lyme. One scientist I interviewed who researches Lyme stated that every single mosquito she had tested, from California to Florida, tested positive with the bacteria.

When searching online for good information on Lyme, it's crucial to keep in mind that medical research is dynamic and ongoing. This disease is a highly underrated epidemic, and the physicians who test their patients for it and diagnose it are not always able to publish about their results immediately. Old and out-of-date information about this disease seems to be prevalent on the web. Yet cutting edge information is available for those who are careful to critically screen the quality of information they find.

Screening out noisy rubble and finding good information about Lyme is like panning for gold. Many websites are helpful, some more than others. Some websites were once relevant, but now they're outdated. Look for the most updated discoveries to find what you need to know. This evening, I was reading through the site of a popular health advocate I once met and whose products I have used, to my great satisfaction. Her website, however, was stacked with information about Lyme disease that dates back to 1996. Over just the past year or two, the discoveries about new, successful treatments for Lyme are hopeful and deeply encouraging, but a person reading this health advocate's site would never get that impression. So watch the expiration date on the information you take to heart. Lyme patients find out quickly that it is to their advantage to get quality and timely research.
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